MANCHESTER: India entered the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 billed as hot favourites, and for the most part, lived up to the moniker. On the back of Rohit Sharma’s superlative form, Virat Kohli’s five consecutive half-centuries, Jasprit Bumrah’s 18 wickets and his ability to pick up wickets almost every time it was needed, India emerged as the best team of the league stage.
They beat South Africa, Australia, Pakistan and West Indies before suffering the first loss. Survived a scare against Afghanistan, brought it down to the last over vs Bangladesh and simply obliterated Sri Lanka to become the second semi-finalists after Australia.
However, throughout India’s campaign, there remained a few concerns. The loss of Shikhar Dhawan, right after a century against Australia, due to a finger fracture turned out to be a blow more severe than India would have liked to admit. Later, Vijay Shankar, groomed to be India’s No. 4, following three low scores, mysteriously copped a blow to his toe and was ruled out. Rishabh Pant took up that position, while Shankar’s replacement Mayank Agarwal never got a game. Something seemed odd and puzzling.
Questions were asked of MS Dhoni for his slow batting against India, followed by baffling accusations that India deliberately gave up against England to stop Pakistan from reaching the semi-final. Bizarre, right? But while there was the occasional uncertainty surrounding the middle order, one of the biggest positives for India was the resurgence of Mohammed Shami, who picked 16 wickets from four matches coming in for Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
But like they say, sports can be cruel. To an extent that one off day can spoil the effort of a long journey. For India, that arrived in their first big match of the World Cup, where a top-order collapse knocked them out of the World Cup. Plenty of positives, few concerns for India in their resilient World Cup 2019 campaign. They thoroughly entertained and remained one of the top sides to beat before a batting failure against New Zealand led to their exit. Here’s a low down of how things panned out for Kohli’s India.
World Cup record: Played 10, Won 7, Lost 2, No result 1, Points 15, by topping the league stage
That India began the tournament with five straight wins (and a washout) sent early warning to oppositions, of which the first three were quite resounding. Against South Africa, riding on Rohit’s gritty 122, which was hailed by his Kohli as his best knock – India chased down 228 with six wickets. Next game, it was Dhawan’s turn to rock with a hundred as India posted a massive 352 against Australia and won by 32 runs. A washout against New Zealand followed, from where India went to Manchester and increased their World Cup dominance against Pakistan to 7-0.
Individually, Shami picking up a hat-trick in his first World Cup 2019 match and winning the match for India was the standout moment.
Arrived in the semi-final, where a dreaded 40 minutes of play saw Trent Boult and Matt Henry’s exploit with the new ball shred India’s top order and reduce them to 5/3. A target of 240, as per Kohli’s admission was gettable, but under grey skies, Boult and Henry seized the opportunity and rocked the Indian innings pretty early with plenty of swing and a bit of seam. India could never recover from there, and played out the worst Powerplay of the World Cup – 24/4. Rohit, Kohli and KL Rahul’s combined tally read almost 1500 runs in the tournament, and on one of the biggest occasions, their collective score read 3, all three dismissed for a run each. Take out India’s top three and you’re in with a chance. New Zealand did exactly that to give themselves more than just that and sealed a memorable win.
Kohli continues to grow as captain, but even though India had a stellar run in the World Cup, few areas need fix. The first stumble for Kohli the captain in the World Cup was to play two spinners in Edgbaston, where his two premier wristspinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal conceded 160 runs in 20 overs. In the same game, Eoin Morgan read the pitch better and included Liam Plunkett ahead of Moeen Ali and the fast bowler ended up picking three wickets.
Now that India are eliminated, fingers might point towards the selection of Dinesh Karthik ahead of Kedar Jadhav, especially after his fighting half-century against Afghanistan proved to be the difference. Off the field, Kohli seems to have matured a lot when it comes to addressing press conferences. Not only does he answer questions patiently but has also begun smiling a lot more.
Most Valuable Player
Well, with 648 runs in nine innings at an average of 81, is there even a contender other than Rohit? Maybe Bumrah. Let’s give this one a tie. In terms of sheer brilliance and choosing a tournament like the World Cup to show a run unheard of makes Rohit and Bumrah the MVPs of India’s World Cup campaign. Five hundreds, three of which came in a row. Against Pakistan, with a new partner in Rahul, Rohit added 136 and himself smacked 140.
After a couple of low score outings – 1 against Afghanistan and 18 vs West Indies (which was a dubious LBW call), Rohit roared back to score 102, 104 and 103 against England, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. His tally of five centuries in a single edition of a World Cup is now the most after Kumar Sangakkara’s four. Many, including the great Brian Lara, feel that Rohit’s captain, Kohli is miles ahead of the rest in terms of the best batsman in the world. But twice in the tournament has Kohli labelled that tag to Rohit. His starry run will be remembered for a long time.
Then there was Bumrah, who emerged as Kohli’s go-to man. The No. 1-ranked ODI bowler in the world never allowed runs to be scored off him in the death, and when the opposition tried, they lost wickets. His 4/55 against Bangladesh stood out. With a set Mohammad Saifuddin threatening to get Bangladesh over the line, Bumrah, bowling the last over, with 36 to defend, sends down two yorkers and the game was won. Terrific.
Kuldeep Yadav picked up six wickets from seven games, which puts a question mark over whether he is starting to get figured out by the opposition. Even his partner Yuzvendra Chahal did not have the greatest of tournaments by his standards, but he picked up wickets – 12 and his 4/51 tied South Africa down to 227. Kuldeep, despite having a slightly better economy rate (5.02) to Chahal’s (5.97) has an average of over 56.
He had two bad games in particular – going for 1/58 against Sri Lanka and 1/73 against England, after which India did not play the two wristspinners together. We have seen Kuldeep get rattled whenever he goes for runs, and with Ravindra Jadeja now breathing down his neck for a spot in the Playing XI due to his efficient bowling and effective batting, it will be a challenge and test for Kuldeep going forward.
The law of average eventually caught up and India played out a bad game to be eliminated in the semi-final for a second straight World Cup. As Kohli said in the post-match press conference, is it disappointing? Yes. Heart-breaking? Yes again. But it doesn’t take away the fact that India lived up to their billing of favourites till the group stage. As cliched as it may sound, on the given they, they were outdone by a team that just played better cricket than them.
The difference between a great side and a champion side is winning matches in even the most adverse situations. In the semifinal, India almost pulled off a miracle, but fell just a little short. The middle order needs some addressing and an eligible No. 4 should be groomed. Who will it be? The coming months should decide. This is a fine team under Kohli, just in need of a little tuning.
What does Dhoni’s future hold?
In all probability, the World Cup 2019 is the swansong of India’s best limited-overs captain. And an announcement is expected any time. Some whispers suggest he might stay around for the World T20 in Australia next year, but do India really need to invest in Dhoni anymore? At the end of the Champions Trophy 2017, India decided to persist with him till the World Cup. And he’s done reasonably well.
Besides his slow innings in Southampton and a debatable 42* at Edgbaston, Dhoni’s half-century against West Indies got India close to 270 and his 35 vital runs against Bangladesh gave India an assurance. In the semi-final, with India tottering at 92/6, Dhoni, along with Jadeja was included in a stunning century-plus alliance. It was because of it that India had a chance.
Will the rope extend longer? If no, then from the bottom of all our hearts, thank you MSD.
Most runs: Rohit Sharma with 648 runs in 9 innings at an average of 81 with five hundreds and a fifty
Most wickets: Jasprit Bumrah with 18 wickets in 9 innings at an average of 20.61 economy of 4.41 and best of 4/55 against Bangladesh
Highest individual score: Rohit Sharma – 140 vs Pakistan at Old Trafford
Best bowling figures: Mohammed Shami – 5/69 in 10 overs vs England at Edgbaston